Ernie Els - Golfer and Winemaker
Ernie Els is best known as one of the premier golfers of the 21st century (ranked #3 as of April 2008). What not everyone knows about the Big Easy is that in addition to time spent as a professional golfer and with his family in South Africa (he has a wife, Liezl, a daughter Samantha, and a son Ben), Ernie is passionate about wine. With his friend Jean Engelbrecht, Ernie sets out to create South African wines that will compete with the best in the world.
Ernie was kind enough to sit down and share with the Got Tannins community, his personal thoughts on wine. We at Got Tannins encourage you to go out and try some South African wines!
What was the first memory you have of wine?
To be honest, it took a while before I discovered wine. You have to bear in mind I grew up in Johannesburg, which is a long way from South Africa’s wine country. Also, my dad never drank alcohol so we didn’t have any wine in the house. It was only really when I met Liezl and then went to visit Jean Engelbrecht [a good friend and partner of Ernie Els Wines] at his family vineyard that I started to taste wines and really enjoy them.
What was the first wine that you considered to be good wine?
I don’t know that I can remember an exact bottle or anything like that, but I’ve always enjoyed good Bordeaux. I guess that’s helped shape my tastes and the way I think about wine. You can see it reflected in the wines we offer now.
Do you think it's the taste of a good wine or the experience while drinking the wine that makes it good? Why?
I think it’s a bit of both. I mean, the two kind of go hand in hand and if one element is not right it can easily spoil the other.
How big is your cellar?
We have 46 Ha (114 Acres) of vineyards on the property in Stellenbosch, and the winery has the capacity to handle 300 tonnes (331 tons) of grapes every harvest. I would think this is a small-medium size, which suits us nicely.
What is your favourite varietal? Why?
I’ve always loved red wine, as I said, especially your classic Bordeaux-style. Our flagship wine, the Ernie Els, is a Bordeaux-style blend of five different varietals and it has been a huge success around the world.
What is your favorite region for wine?
I’m biased, obviously! But I’d say we’re very lucky in South Africa because the wine is very special. The weather gives us the perfect growing conditions and I think it’s fair to say we’ve come along way in a short space of time. We’re catching up with some of the other New World wine regions like the Napa Valley and Australia, and even giving some serious competition to the established countries such as France. We’re producing some great wines in the Stellenbosch area these days. It’s very exciting to be a part of that success.
What is your favorite vineyard or brand?
My opinion is obviously not very objective, but I just love drinking the new vintages from our three wineries that we are involved in. With the portfolio currently at 14 wines, there is always something new to try.
Do you have a favorite bottle? (varietal, region, year)
Stellenbosch 2003 reds are very good. 2006’s are exciting but time will tell how they mature.
What wine are you saving for a special day?
Although we are a young wine brand, our first wines are getting close to optimal drinking and I am looking forward to trying our maiden vintage, the 2000 Ernie Els Bordeaux blend again. Being a wine built around a 60% Cabernet Sauvignon base, the wine should have opened up beautifully in the last year or so.
Where do you buy the majority of your wine? (Retailer, Direct, etc. Feel free to name the store you shop at or the site you buy from)
To be honest, Liezl and I buy our wine from a variety of retailers, normally on short notice for my airplane or a braai [barbecue] with friends.
Have you ever had an organic wine? Did you like it?
I have had very few organic wines, but I think I need time to understand them a little better.
What is the most you've ever spent on a bottle of wine?
The best wines I have had were actually gifts from friends, so I have been very lucky.
What was your favorite wine experience (or one of your top experiences)?
I think it’s hard to beat sitting down with a few friends after a game of golf and sharing a nice bottle of wine. You know, it makes you feel good about life. And being a South African, for me a good steak on the braai with a nice red wine is a great combination; that’s probably my favourite meal.
What one wine do you recommend for our readers to try?
One of our friends from Franschoek, L’Ormarins, has just released the A. Rupert collection, and the Cabernet Franc is outstanding.
What is an up-and-coming wine (or winery) you think is a good value right now?
My friend Greg Norman has always delivered great wines at all price-points.